Meet one of our neighbors. She’s not a next-door neighbor, because she lives down in the village of Fabro (in a home at the base of the old castle) and our house is a few kilometers outside of town. But Fabro is small, so just about everyone is a neighbor – more or less. I don’t know her name – and somehow I don’t feel right asking. Oftentimes in Italy it’s more polite to refer to another woman as signora – even if she’s your neighbor.
One morning last week, Luigi and I were driving through town in a hurry (at least, I was in a hurry, since I was the one driving). We were on our way to visit the town of Montefalco, and I was eager to get an early start. As we rounded one of the hairpin turns coming down the hill, we passed by la signora out in her garden, holding a bright bouquet of yellow-orange zucchini blossoms in one hand, and picking more with the other.
On impulse, I pulled the car over to the side of the road and looked at my husband. “I need a photo of that,” I said. “Of course, you do,” he said.
I grabbed my camera and walked back up the street, along the base of the stone, terraced wall of la signora‘s garden. The garden itself was well above my head, and I craned my neck to see la signora, but she was partially hidden behind a row of tall tomato plants. (You’re going to be really late, my mind told me. Late for what? I heard myself answer.)
“Buongiorno, signora,” I called out. No answer. I tried again, louder this time, and her head shot out from behind the plants. She walked towards the edge of her terrace, looking straight down at me and cupping one hand behind her ear. Oh, oh, I thought. Is she irritated that I’ve interrupted her morning garden routine?
“Quelli sono belli,” I shouted up to her. Those are beautiful. I held up my camera so she’d know I’d like to take a picture.
A big smile was her response. “Vuoi?” she asked. Do you want?
“I’d like to take a photo, yes,” I said. Her Fabrese dialect was thick, so I thought maybe she’d misunderstood my American-accented Italian.
She held up the bouquet of zucchini blossoms. “Ma vuoi questi?” she said. But do you want these?
My face must have shown my surprise, because her grin was growing bigger “Really?” I asked. “Certo!” she said. Of course. She motioned towards the sharp curve in the road. “Come up to my garden this way.” And so I did.
While Luigi waited in the car (thinking I was just snapping a picture of two), I chatted with la signora about her garden, the weather and her gorgeous zucchini blossoms. – and snapped a picture of her holding the delicate flowers. The thoughts I’d had of being late for something slipped away, and I felt myself relax.
She motioned for me to slip my camera around my neck, and she placed the bouquet of blossoms into my hands – while I thanked her again and again. She just smiled and bent down to pick more flowers, sliding them into tiny spaces between the others, as I struggled to hold the growing bouquet.
“You’ll need to go home and put these in water right away,” she said, cupping her little hands over mine, and looking me straight in the eye. “The flowers will wilt, but you can keep them for a couple of days in water and you can make a bella pasta or frittata.”
“I’ll do that,” I said. “I’ll make a bella frittata this evening.”
We bid each other a bella giornata, and I yelled up a few more thank-yous as I headed back to the car. She smiled and waved, and then went back to work in her garden.
I opened the car door and handed Luigi the bouquet (he was grinning), and then I turned the car around. We went straight back home to put those gorgeous, yellow-orange zucchini blossoms in a vase of water … no longer late or rushed or hurrying for anything.